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Minor League Report: Reno Aces

Lots of guys waiting for an opportunity this and next season.

MiLB: APR 10 Reno Aces at Las Vegas Aviators Photo by Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Not long after the Tucson Sidewinders were sold in 2006, plans were announced to move the team to Reno in Nevada. After a new stadium was built, the Aces started playing in Reno in 2008 and ever since the team has been the Triple A team for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Aces are a rather successful franchise. They won it all in 2012 and have won their division 5 times in 15 years, while adding two league titles to their trophies.

This year they are on track for another successive division title, which isn’t that weird considering the amount of players with option years that have been moved up and down to tank a bit of confidence in the thin air of Reno specifically and the PCL in general: Dominic Fletcher (.908 OPS), Jose Herrera (.991 OPS), Kyle Lewis (.956 OPS), Jake McCarthy (.952 OPS), Emmanuel Rivera (.969 OPS) and Alek Thomas (.927 OPS) have all enjoyed or are still enjoying the PCL.

The Reno batters are hitting an average of .910 OPS with a triple slash of .320/.411/.499. It shows how ridiculous it is to hit in Reno, but it seems to be working for players like Rivera, Thomas and McCarthy.

That OPS is well ahead of league average, in the PCL teams have an average of .839 OPS. That means that some players that are hitting terrific according to “normal” baseball standards, aren’t really hitting that great at all, although I’d say that an OPS well over .900 in the PCL is nothing to be ashamed of.

When hitters can pump some confidence in the PCL, that means that there is an existing downside for the pitchers. Reno pitching is on a 6.27 ERA, but you would have to take that with a pinch of salt and probably look a bit more at a combination of hits and walks allowed. No team but the Oklahoma City Dodgers stand out this year in AAA. Reno’s ERA is middle of the pack, just like the hits and homeruns allowed. Some good strikeout performance is, however, hampered by a lot of walks allowed. Walks seem to be a complete plague at every minor league level within the Diamondbacks organisation.

Blocked by MLB players.

Blaze Alexander: waiting for an opportunity.

With the terrific 2022 he had in Amarillo, Blaze was a no doubt addition to the 40 man roster ahead of the Rule 5 draft last offseason. Alexander has continued to rake and is the best hitter on that entire Reno Aces’ squad with a .364/.485/.655. Alexander hasn’t played that many games: he was put on the 60-day IL early April with a broken thumb that kept him from playing until not that long ago, so he has played in just 16 games so far. He has a huge BABIP with .486 so that slash line will probably lower a bit, but with a BB% of almost 15% the eye seems fit for an opportunity in MLB. However, the road to the MLB isn’t exactly easy as his position is occupied by Marte and Perdomo. Unless Ahmed’s time is over, be it by the end of the season or some kind of trade, or one of the middle infield guys hits the IL, it will be difficult for Alexander to hit the majors on a frequent basis. With such a scenario and another future shortstop storming up the minor league ladder, maybe Alexander is a possible player to be included in a “deadline” trade, and teams could have an appetite for him as Blaze is #8 on the team’s Top 30 on MLB Pipeline.

Dominic Canzone: waiting for an opportunity.

Canzone has had a solid road through the Diamondbacks’ minor league levels and hit AAA last year. Canzone wasn’t added to the major league roster but is a clear candidate to be added this year. He profiles as a 4th outfielder and can play every outfield position but has mostly manned the corners in Reno. In Triple A he has improved in every area: more walks, less strikeouts (13.6%) and more power, leading to a great .344/.423/.648, and a team leading 16 homeruns. His biggest hinderance right now is that he is yet another lefty in that Diamondbacks outfield, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes part of some trade this summer. On the other hand, he has also played 1B the last couple of seasons, so maybe the Diamondbacks are considering the #12 prospect on MLB Pipeline as the alternative for Pavin Smith?

Buddy Kennedy: not on the 40-man roster.

If Blaze Alexander has difficulties to find a way into the MLB, then the same tale can be told about Buddy Kennedy, although his positional flexibility is limited to 2B. Lately the Diamondbacks have given him more reps at 3B, what in the last decade has become a traditionally weak position for the Diamondbacks, but defensively he doesn’t look as well at the corner as in the middle. He is still only 24 years old and from an offence point-of-view he is doing quite well in Reno. He is the living proof that is possible to have a long breath of luck with a .414 BABIP over 96 games and currently he takes more walks than he strikes out. But the hurdle for Kennedy is that he has to be added to the 40-man roster again, which puts him behind Blaze Alexander on the minor league depth chart.

Tristin English: a 1B with a strong arm.

2019 3rd round pick Tristin English was a two-way player in college but the Diamondbacks have only deployed him as a hitter in the minors. Logically, he has a strong arm, so his defence at the corners is pretty good. After a 1.148 OPS in Amarillo to start the season he was soon transferred to Reno where English has showing some decent pop but his .895 OPS is lacking a bit behind the big boys here, although still nothing to be ashamed of. English is a righty, and while he played 3B in Hillsboro, the past few years he has been deployed as 1B, with some appearances in the outfield. The way Christian Walker is performing there isn’t a clear path to major league playing time bar an injury or a huge slump. The only thing English can do at the moment is to slug in Reno. English is Rule 5 eligible so he will have to be added to the 40-man roster this off-season or there is a chance he gets picked by a team with questionable 1B depth.

On the rise.

Jorge Barrosa: might be ready for a call up.

The Diamondbacks felt that Jorge Barrosa’s performance and age could make him a Rule 5 target, so they didn’t feel it was worth the risk to leave him exposed and added the 22 year old Venezuelan to the 40-man roster. Above all the team’s Top 10 prospect is a defence first prospect in center field with some good hitting skills. No real pop nor lightning speed, but he has shown great walk percentages and an acceptable strikeout rate in Reno. Since he isn’t much of a power hitter his .864 OPS is fine. Because he is already on the 40-man roster he could get a taste of MLB by the season’s end, although he would be yet another one of that rather long list of outfielders with the team. He is a switch hitter, but in Reno is hitting better as a LHB than as a RHB although his splits in the past two years are rather even. If he could improve his hitting against LHP, he wouldn’t be another roster addition that would squeeze the platoon of left-handed batters.

Slade Cecconi: needs some more time.

In just his third season in the organisation Cecconi’s first season in AAA is a hard encounter with the PCL. The mistakes he might have made in Amarillo are being punished in Reno, leading to a rough 2.6 HR/9. With such a rate it is hard to imagine the righty debuting in the MLB this season although at just 24 years of age there is no need to rush him either. The 2020 first round pick probably needs some more seasoning because his other standard pitching stats aren’t that far off from what he did the last two years, although the hits and walks have increased, all leading to an unsightly 7.09 ERA. If all goes well he might become the homegrown version of Zach Davies, although hopefully with better results overall.

Bryce Jarvis: destined for the bullpen.

The 18th pick of the 2020 draft is on track to the bullpen with a 4.6 BB9 over his 2.5 seasons in the minors of the Diamondbacks’ organisation. That probably isn’t what you hope for your first round pick, but looks more of a reality for Jarvis. For Reno he has started in 11 games and despite the hard contact he allows, he hasn’t given up many homeruns, but did allow a lot of hits that mattered, leading to a 6.62 ERA. Scout reports talk of an easy-to-hit fastball. Add to that the number of walks and one + one makes a reliever. The way the Diamondbacks are competing it is hard to see him entering the conversation of bullpen relief in the MLB this season unless the Diamondbacks need temporary help.

Blake Walston: needs another season.

It’s probably a hard-presser to see the 2019 first round draft pick debut in the majors in 2023 as this is just his first season in AAA. The lefty has troubles getting righties out in the PCL, who have hit .306/.398/.432 against him, although he has been a bit unlucky, according to BABIP. Walston doesn’t have the velocity to blow batters away with a low 90s fastball, which has resulted in a huge drop in his strikeouts, but it looks like he has also struggled a lot with his control from time to time. His 4.72 ERA is okay, but his 1.655 WHIP says that it could be much worse.

Justin Martinez: got his first call-up.

The same about Jarvis can be applied to Justin Martinez, with the exception that Martinez enjoyed a good spring and recently got his first call-up to the major leagues. His 4.18 ERA is fine, his 12.2 K/9 in Reno awesome, and the hits and homeruns allowed all good. However, as with many flamethrowers the control is troublesome from time to time and Justin’s 8.7 BB/9 is a big red flag. That is a logical follow-up on his 6.6 BB/9 over 5 minor league seasons. It remains to be seen if Martinez can overcome that in the major leagues and not fall into a Luis Frías trap. Probably not.

Brandon Pfaadt: ready to get back up.

After struggling in the majors you could expect Pfaadt to find renewed struggles in the AAA, something not completely unheard of. But Pfaadt has continued to perform in Reno and is by far the best pitcher on the Diamondbacks’ minor league teams at the moment. He had some troubles starting up again in AAA and was hit hard in a game against the Aviators in Las Vegas, but in his latest outing went 7 innings in Reno, allowing just 1 run. It is just a matter of time.

Note: he is already back up.

Major league depth.

  • He has played just 7 games so far in Reno, splitting catching duties with a couple of others, but Jose Herrera has done so far what he has to do: rake. A .357/.419/.571 will ensure him of catching duties once Carson Kelly is traded away.
  • Phillip Evans has gotten most reps at 3B in Reno, but has no clear path to the major leagues either. He has done what he has to do, with a .991 OPS that is 4th on the team with almost the double of walks than strikeouts, that are already at a very low 9.9%. In any other non-competitive year Evans would have probably gotten an opportunity at the major league level, but in 2023 that outlook is rather grim.
  • Ever since getting optioned to Reno Kyle Lewis has played most of his games at DH and the rest in LF. With Lourdes Gurriel Jr. being entrenched at the same positions at the major league level Lewis has a tough road to crack the majors again unless the Diamondbacks think he deserves another shot at some DH work.
  • Off-season waiver claim Ali Sánchez has done some good work behind the plate in Reno. With a 1.000 FLD%, a 42% caught-stealing rate and 3 double plays, he is performing a lot better than PJ Higgins. He doesn’t hit for power, but has good walk and strikeout percentages, with a fine batting line of .316/.397/.491. If Carson Kelly is moved, the Diamondbacks could try Sánchez out, although since he isn’t on the 40-man roster it would be a tough call to leave Herrera down.
  • You can’t really wish for a better performance of your relievers in Reno than that of Luis Frías. With a 5.75 K/BB, a 0.729 WHIP and just 1 homerun given up in 18 games, you’d wonder what prevents the Dominican from dominating and succeeding at the highest level. He’s 25 years old and in his final option year, so next year it will be now or never for him in Arizona.
  • The Diamondbacks had high hopes for Carlos Vargas when they traded for him. After an interesting spring training he was optioned to Reno after struggling at the highest level. The struggles have continued in Reno where he currently has a 2.441 WHIP, evidence of his terrible control issues. We won’t see him back in Arizona any time soon.